Winnipeg police warning against vigilante justice in booze thefts
WINNIPEG -- Police in Winnipeg are investigating a string of brazen alcohol thefts in the city and are urging the public not to intervene if they come across such incidents.
Winnipeg is the latest city to experience swarms of young people entering liquor stores, grabbing as many bottles as they can and simply walking out the front door. Staff has been told to avoid confrontation as a way of preventing harm, but some frustrated citizens have been taking matters into their own hands.
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In recent days, several videos of these incidents have been making the rounds on social media, with one such video showing two young people filling their bags with booze before two bystanders takes one of them to the ground for a citizen’s arrest.
Police on Monday urged the public to avoid confronting these individuals for their own safety, as some of these thefts have involved machetes and even guns.
“Is your life worth a bottle of alcohol?” Const. Jay Murray of the Winnipeg Police Service told CTV News. “That's what it comes down to.”
Chris Gamby of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association of Manitobasaid the vigilante justice is not worth it, in part because police have a lot of tools at their disposal to catch suspects.
“Let the police do their jobs,” he said. “Let them conduct the investigation. The liquor commission has a very sophisticated setup in them. I’ve seen these videos, they’re high-definition quality. They can and will identify people.”
Police say they have developed new strategies to catch suspected thieves, but will not disclose them, which has led to some of the social media frustration among residents.
Still, police say the strategy has been effective as there have been 18 arrests in Winnipeg last week alone.
Neil McArthur, director of the Centre for Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba, said the fact that these crimes are being conducted in broad daylight when the liquor stores are open is part of the reason behind some of the furor online.
“Suddenly we’re seeing cellphone videos of this and it feels very real to people,” he said. “I think that’s, in many ways, good to make it transparent, what’s happening in our society, but it can also lead to panic and I think people can overreact.”
Police in Manitoba have been reaching out to officers in other jurisdictions for advice, including in southern Ontario, where police arrested 23 people following a six-month investigation into 170 thefts from theprovincial liquor control board, or LCBO, locations in Vaughan, Ont. The total combined value of thefts was nearly $60,000.
However, the LCBO is still dealing with such thefts. Back in June, police in Toronto issued an arrest warrant for a man believed to have stolen $50,000 worth of liquor from the LCBO and just recently, thieves filled several suitcases and duffel bags with bottles and then walked out the front door.
Back in Manitoba, all options are being explored to curb these crimes, but it’s proving a difficult task.
“If there was a silver bullet, we would have implemented it by now,” said Andrea Kowal, spokesperson for Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries. “There is no one thing that is going to fix this.”